Production of a cheap educational computer by UK charity the Raspberry Pi Foundation is underway, but the first batch is to be produced in China to save money.
Eben Upton, founder of the project, said that it if the charity had chosen to manufacture in the UK, as it had originally hoped, the project would have cost more and taken longer.
He said that by manufacturing in China, the charity would make a few pounds profit on each unit which could then be reinvested in the charity's research and development activities, but if it had selected a UK manufacturer the charity would struggle to break even.
Upton is confident that the Chinese manufacturer has adequate workplace conditions. He did not name the manufacturer, but said: “For various reasons we are aware that they are a good employer, but that was not formally part of our assessment.”
Another factor is that it is cheaper to manufacture the product abroad and then import the finished product rather than import the necessary components to build the product in the UK because British companies have to pay import duty on individual components but not on the finished product.
Timescale was another important factor for Raspberry Pi and it could not find a UK manufacturer that could produce the computer in less than 12 weeks, compared to China where the manufacturers can do it in four weeks.
Upton started looking at ways to produce a cheap computer about five years ago when working as a computer science lecturer after realising that computing and IT students had less experience of programming since home PCs had become more sophisticated.
The Raspberry Pi PC is credit card sized and plugs into a TV screen and keyboard and at £16, or £22 for a model with the ability to connect to the internet. Upton hopes children will be able to afford one and use it to learn about programming and code.
Following last week’s announcement by education minister Micahael Gove that IT education in England and Wales is to be overhauled, Upton also hopes that schools might be interested in buying the devices.
The first batch of 10,000 computers should be on sale in February.